Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce, four stars

CONDUCTOR Valeri Polyansky is a big man who has no need of a podium to be visible to the members of the orchestra he has directed for a quarter of a century. There is nothing flowery about his conducting style, his gestural vocabulary sometimes bold but always crisp, while often it dwindles to hardly anything at all. Long before his pantomime with the principal cello during the trio of encores – and departure while the orchestra played on, scores tucked under his arm – it was very clear whose show this was.

Nonetheless, it was probably glamourous pianist Valentina Lisitsa, whose career has been built on her postings on YouTube, who was responsible for attracting a good house to the first orchestral event to go ahead in Scotland in days. Her account of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No3 was always articulate and integrated with the orchestral ensemble, but her first movement cadenza a little over-pedalled and indistinct. The dynamism she unleashed in the finale, however, was well worth the patience.

Concert orchestras are not always built to service dance music, by Polyansky and his Russians would surely suit any ballet company to judge by their performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Suite. Its five movement structure may confuse those more familiar with the entire score but makes perfect musical sense on its own, culminating in the familiar melody of the birthday Waltz.

By contrast, the pause the conductor took between the virtuosic pizzicato Scherzo of the same composer’s Fourth Symphony and its explosive finale, where other conductors now often proceed immediately, did seem a little out of time. It was a small detail, but slightly diminished a performance that tripped lightly between the weighty “Fate” motifs of the work and its lighter dance textures. There were some fine solo performances throughout the work, but it was the gorgeous tone of the principal bassoon that particularly stood out.